Ever since I first heard about New Brunswick’s Off Kilter Bike, I’ve wanted to try it. I mean, it’s biking in kilts. How cool is that?
In Canada’s Maritimes, it sometimes seems as though every second person has a set of bagpipes squirrelled away in the basement, and spends their weekends hiking or fly fishing or doing something else outdoorsy. So where else, really, would someone come up with the idea of kilted cycling?
In Your Bucket Because…
- You rarely get the chance to cycle in pseudo-Scottish warrior garb.
- The scenery–salt marshes, forests, deserted beaches–is lovely.
- You can book a trip ranging from two hours to several days.
- Good for moderately fit cyclists and adventure junkies.
I finally got the chance to try Off Kilter this spring, while visiting the picture-postcard village of St. Andrews by-the-Sea in the southwest corner of New Brunswick. Company owner/personal trainer/schoolteacher Kurt Gumushel took a small group of us out for an invigorating two-hour ride on a bright spring day. Because of the brisk breeze, most of us wore leggings or sweatpants under the kilts. The overall effect made it highly unlikely we’ll be appearing on the cover of Vogue anytime soon (see stylish photo).
So why kilts? “Is it just a marketing ploy?” someone in the group asked.
“Isn’t everything?” Gumushel replied with a grin.
He and his dad, a tailor, cooked up the idea to make the fledgling cycling company stand out from the pack. The kilts adjust with Velcro tabs along the waistline, but they are a little prone to blowing in the breeze. Even in summer, cycling shorts below the tartan would be a good idea.
As we set off on our trek, it soon became clear to me that fashion would be the least of my worries. At home, I’m strictly a city cyclist; I get a bit unnerved if I have to swerve onto the grass along a paved recreational path to avoid pedestrians.
For the first 15 minutes or so, we travelled along quiet village streets, past clapboard houses, white-steepled churches and the stunning shoreline of Passamaquoddy Bay. So far, so good.
Off the Beaten Path
But then we went off road, as keen cyclists have a disturbing tendency to do. The next thing I knew, we were hurtling through a forest of white pine, red maple, white birch and other trees that went by in a bit of a blur. I quickly learned the off-road cyclist’s trick of staying a bit off the seat; otherwise, every exposed tree root brought the risk of a thorough jolt to the system.
The next obstacle was a hill overlooking a rock-strewn beach. I couldn’t lose face and look like a dumb city slicker. I took a deep breath and plunged down the slope, hanging on as though my fingers were eagle claws and the handlebars a fat mouse. I skidded to a stop on the water-smoothed stones and tried to hide my relief as Gumushel signalled us to take a break, so he could bring us up to speed on some local history.
Why Two Wheels Are Better Than Four
He pointed out Ministers Island, just offshore. It’s home to the gently decaying summer home of Sir William Van Horne, first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Gumushel often takes groups out there in low tide, when the waters recede to uncover a gravelly route between the mainland and the island.
Our group had visited the island by car earlier in the day, when one of our vehicles got stuck in the mud and had to be winched out by tow truck. Gumushel tried, and failed, to hide a smug smile. Bikes rarely need a winch to get where they’re going. And, I had to admit, getting from point A to point B by bike was much more fun–despite the tree roots.
Bring cycling shorts or tights, along with closed-toe shoes (cycling shoes aren’t required).
Bug spray, sunscreen and sunglasses would be handy in summer.
Find out more and book at Off Kilter’s website.